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Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware reflects on Biden's debt ceiling deal

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And we're going to turn now to Senator Chris Coons, Democrat, of course, from the president's home state of Delaware. Senator Coons, thanks so much for being with us.

CHRIS COONS: Good morning, Scott. It's great to be on with you again.

SIMON: Well, nice to be with you, sir. What did this protracted and often dramatic process show about how government, Congress, the executive branch to do business in this country?

COONS: It shows first, unfortunately, that some in Congress today are so reckless that they're willing to hold hostage the full faith and credit of the United States to try and extract concessions. It also reminds us that President Biden is a pro. He knows how to negotiate. He knows how to get the best possible outcome. And as he said from the Oval Office last night, there was a crisis averted. The American people got what they needed. And he will sign this debt ceiling deal, this budget legislation into law today. We can all breathe a sigh of relief and move forward with doing the people's business in Congress.

SIMON: Your fellow Democrat, Senator Merkley of Oregon, voted against the debt ceiling deal. And, in fact, he used the word you just did. In an interview with NPR, he said the president should have done more to prevent this kind of hostage-taking.

COONS: Well...

SIMON: How do you assess that? Yeah.

COONS: Well, look, I have joined Senator Merkley in co-sponsoring a piece of legislation I think is important for our future. It's called Protect Our Credit Act. And it would change the way the debt ceiling is raised so that we wouldn't have similar hostage-taking in the future. Obviously, I disagree with Senator Merkley that President Biden could have done better or could have done more. Frankly, this was a near-perfect outcome given the catastrophic cuts that would have occurred if the bill that passed the House under Speaker McCarthy's leadership had become law. President Biden protected our core priorities - Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He protected the progress that was made under the Inflation Reduction Act in reducing the cost of prescription drugs for households all over the country, in making generational investments in combating climate change and in the infrastructure bill. President Biden delivered a result that protects the progress the Democratic majority made in the last Congress, and he averted the worst of the threatened harms that the Republican vision would have achieved if they'd been more successful in these negotiations.

SIMON: The president gave credit to Speaker McCarthy. You - do you share that?

COONS: I think the president was being gracious in victory. And I think he knows how to build and sustain relationships even with those who oppose him. Speaker McCarthy was sharply critical of President Biden in public many times in the last few months. President Biden largely did not respond. He negotiated in good faith, he negotiated privately, and they got to a constructive result. I think what President Biden is doing is showing the leadership necessary to build a working relationship with Speaker McCarthy.

Look, Scott, the structure of our country, of our Constitution and our Congress requires compromise. If Republicans and Democrats - if our leaders in the White House and Congress can't work together, everybody suffers. President Biden knows that. He made clear in his address from the Oval Office last night, he's still swinging. He still got priorities. He intends to keep fighting for the working people of America. But he also was able to be gracious and show respect for how Speaker McCarthy conducted these negotiations.

SIMON: Despite reaching the deal, a major credit agency, Fitch Ratings, decided to keep the U.S. credit on negative watch. Our economic correspondent Scott Horsley says they point to a steady deterioration in governance over the last 15 years. What do you make of that?

COONS: Well, that's something we should all take seriously. Frankly, if we had defaulted, it would be a huge win for Xi Jinping and the People's Republic of China, for Vladimir Putin and for Russia. We would be weakened at home and abroad. And the fact that we averted default this time is a credit to our current president.

Partly what I think that rating agency is signaling is it's not guaranteed that President Biden and Vice President Harris will be reelected. And the alternatives, as we saw in some of the squabbling between the different Republican nominees - or excuse me, candidates for president - many of them, if they were elected president, including the former president Donald Trump, might well have defaulted. Former President Trump was cheering on those in the House majority who were threatening default and considering seriously taking us over an economic cliff.

SIMON: Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. Thanks so much for being back with us, Senator.

COONS: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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